little boy making language signs

Sign language: Teaching my child to communicate with their hands


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Around this time, you might notice that your little one gets a bit frustrated or fussy when they try to express themselves and fail. Your baby will enter a range of months in which what they understand and want to say has not caught up yet to what they’re capable of saying; particularly between 8-24 months of age. That’s why, at the beginning, gestures and imitating will become vital. They’ll watch closely for your cues and try to imitate the words you say, as well as learning how to seek your attention or help. Crying might be the first option, and it’s totally understandable since they can’t put what they want into words, and that is frustrating.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Mayo Clinic agree that teaching your baby sign language is a tool that can improve communication and make bonding time more enjoyable, especially during these months. You can start teaching your baby as early as you want, just keep in mind that they’re probably going to try to imitate the signs at around 9+ months of age.

Here’s a list of recommended words to get you started with: airplane, baby, ball, bird, blanket, book, cat, cup, cold, daddy, diaper, dog, done, drink, eat, go, good night, happy, help, hot, hurt, I love you, milk, mommy, more, nap, no, outside, please, sit, sleep, star, thank you, up, water.


You want to start with simple and everyday concepts that your little one is already familiar with; concepts that describe your routine. Try giving signs a context: meal time, bathing time, changing diaper time, going to bed, etc.

Adding gestures to your favorite songs will also help expand your repertoire of activities with sign language. Reading time and picture books can also reinforce the concept that everything has a name and expose your child to more vocabulary and language comprehension. Whether you’re reading or talking to them, give them plenty of opportunities to join in. Ask questions and wait for a response. Paying attention to what they say will also help you identify the words they understand, the ones they want to express, and the ones they have more trouble with.

Things to keep in mind

Don’t worry if your baby has trouble imitating the signs at first, with your patience and understanding they’ll get there. Be sure to keep talking to them; as long as signs don’t replace your verbal conversations it won’t get in the way of their development and they’ll learn to communicate with both words and gestures. Remember that teaching sign language is intended to ease the frustration and promote fun during bonding time; it’s not mandatory. It’s always good to share the signs you use with your family or the people that are close to your baby so that they can also help them express themselves and promote their language development.

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